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Reggae Nation

Tippa Irie
Suiting Up: Tippa Irie shows up Sunday to help the Dub Lounge celebrate a year of mixing and spinning.

Photo by Kevin Small

Robert Rankin' and Spliff Skankin master the reggae mix at San Jose's Agenda Lounge

By Nicky Baxter

THE SHOCK WAVES can be heard several blocks away down San Jose's South First Street, a ground-shaking boom that heralds another Sunday night at the Dub Lounge, a weekly fixture at the Agenda Lounge for the past year. Jam-packed with roots addicts, scene-makers and groove-opportunists, the Lounge rocks to the hypnotic reggae beat. Onstage, the DJ bobs his head, barely acknowledging the effect his mixing and matching is having out on the dance floor. With his head-goggles pressed on tight, Dennis Bishop--better known as Spliff Skankin--appears to be in his own world. Occasionally, he mumbles something into the mic, exhorting the crowd. Meanwhile, co-host Robert Rankin' darts back and forth between the sound center and the bar area, tweaking things on the technical end.

The duo operates under the name Massive Sound International. Senior partner Spliff has been involved in reggae music since the mid-1970s. "I'd always liked the sound, that beat, even before I knew what it was," the DJ tells me later. "When I saw Jimmy Cliff [in the cult classic The Harder They Come] in 1972, that really turned my head." Four years later, another head-twisting moment occurred when he saw Bob Marley perform. Back then, Spliff's reggae diet consisted of true-schoolers such as Marley, the vocal trio the Mighty Diamonds, U-Roy (granddaddy of Rasta rap) and, crucially, dub masters Augustus Pablo and King Tubby. It is this music that continues to resonate most for the DJ.

Concerning the division of labor at the Dub Lounge gig, Rankin' confirms that his partner "will play a lot of the dub stuff, a lot of roots music, then I'll come on and play more contemporary records like dance-hall and raggamuffin." Of course, it helps that both Skankin and Rankin' have radio shows on which they promote their various projects with the zeal of missionaries, which in a way they are. Spliff has been playing reggae on Foothill College's KFJC (89.7FM) on Sundays, 3­7pm, for more than a decade. Rankin' started out spinning discs on KFJC but has since moved on to KKUP (91.5FM).

Just now, "Worth His Weight in Gold (Rally Round)," Steel Pulse's Pan Africanist anthem, has fired up the crowd. When Spliff announces that next Sunday marks the Dub Lounge's first anniversary, the audience cheers lustily. When he reveals that talented reggae chanter Tippa Irie will be on hand to help celebrate, the din is deafening. Before our interview ends, Spliff ventures his opinion on why the Dub Lounge has been so successful. "We've always been given a free hand with the music," he declares. "We play what we like and not the flavor of the month. We could take this somewhere else, like San Francisco, but this is where we started out, and we don't plan on going anywhere anytime soon."

Tippa Irie celebrates the one-year anniversary of the Dub Lounge on Sunday (May 25) at the Agenda Lounge, 399 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $3. (408/287-4087)

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From the May 22-28, 1997 issue of Metro

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